Friday, September 5, 2014

What is a Miracle?

I've been wondering a lot lately about miracles, and the word "miracle." Are there no miracles to be found, are they everywhere you look, or something in between? What is a miracle? On one level, a miracle is something (good) that was not "supposed" to happen. An exception, an aberration, a variation, an improbability. Something unexpected, unexplainable, perhaps even unknowable by 'reductive' science. 

Then again, when I say or think "miracle" I can't help but conjure Walt Whitman, and his poem 'Miracles', which Louisa and I have always treasured, and which begins, "Why, who makes much of a miracle? As to me I know of nothing else but miracles…"

And what about the "miracle of life itself" (in the infectiously enthusiastic spirit of Annie Dillard, or Lewis Thomas in The Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher)? Consider the human body and all the intricate, interconnected workings of homeostasis. Every moment there are millions of cells and proteins and neurons and enzymes doing an untold number of jobs, simply so I may be alive and self-regulated. It's as amazing as the Earth, as the universe!
During the initial shock of my recurrence, I stepped onto an elevator and thought, "Maybe love can save me." (Little did I realize, intuitively I was onto something!). I got in the car to drive home and thought, "I need a miracle." And then, immediately, picturing my daughter, "But I..already miracle (sob)." I'd had only a "2% chance" of conceiving and yet I did, and gave birth to a wonderful human being. Wow. Talk about a Puritan sensibility. "Only allowed one miracle! You've got yours, now move on, don't be selfish!" I had a long way to go to open up.

My friends Pat and Heather sent me a book -- one that I would not have picked out myself, even if it had been staring me in the face. It was From Stage IV to Center Stage by Denise DeSimone. A woman with stage IV throat cancer (squamous cell carcinoma no less) was given 3 months to live, and then wrote the book eight years later. I read the back, the blurbs. "OK, yeah. A 'miracle' story," I practically scoffed. Implying: "It's not going to help me, but it was a nice gesture of them to send the book so I'll read it." (I'm flat on my back from chemo so reading is something I can do). A lot of prayer is in this book. A lot of spirituality. And a lot of gumption too, which appeals to me. It got me to stop and think. This is a real person. The main takeaways: the importance of self-love, and forgiveness, and the revelatory stance of facing your cancer (or whatever challenge you face) not as an enemy to be fought but as a teacher to learn from. So I started going with that
Later I read Bernie Siegel's Love, Medicine and Miracles (which I recommend whether you have a disease or not). In it, he presents "exceptional" patients, who by the power of love (and determination) outlive their prognoses, spontaneously resolve their cancers, or simply deal with unfinished business and gain true peace of mind, so they can die gracefully. They all 'healed their lives.' 
Bernie notes, "all healing is scientific, even if science can't yet explain how the unexpected "miracles" occur." People often mistake miracles for luck. But the healings Bernie describes "occur through hard work. They are not acts of God…They are not always measurable. They happen by means of an inner energy available to all of us."

Uh-oh. That "energy" word, for some, raises a brow. You may be skeptical, and fundamentally discount things that sound "New Age." But, people do defy odds. Some people are not "supposed" to be alive. People do find peace and reconciliation and grace. It's amazing how open-minded you can be when you really have to be.
At first, I simply took my cancer recurrence at face value, did some research, and found myself in an elaborate bird cage -- or prison, really -- of limitation, of the finite. I began to see everyone and everything through the bars of this prison, which caused me pain, yet I couldn't stop picking at it. I felt at once very far away and also very near -- to all the "last times." It took some very intent soul-searching and "inner work," and help from friends and the outpouring of love, until I got to a place where one day I happened to notice a messenger hummingbird. That started a shift. And then I realized something fundamental, something so obvious, about this prison. The door was not locked. It was not even closed!! So I just walked out.